For many boys — and quite a few men too — Chester B. Cebulski must have one of the best jobs in the world. As the main talent scout for Marvel Comics, he spends his days reading portfolios of writers and artists in search of the best talent to fill the comic book giant’s pages. As senior vice president – Creator and Content Development, Cebulski also serves as Marvel’s global ambassador to the international artistic communities. While in Singapore to attend Screen Singapore, Cebulski sat down with ARTINFO to discuss his job, the evolution of Manga, and his favorite superhero.
Can you explain your different hats at Marvel?
Have you ever seen the movie Michael Clayton with George Clooney? He’s the guy in the office who has a desk but no one know what he does and he has his hand in everything; he’s the fixer. That’s how I look at myself at Marvel. I’m still the talent scout but also the brand ambassador. I’ve been working there longer than most people, and in many capacities, so I know how things run and how to connect the dots inside Marvel and put people together. Because I do so much talent scouting I go to so many countries and cities. I’m always stopping by the Disney office, now that they have acquired us. I have a Marvel 101 lecture, about who we are as a corporation and talking about the Marvel brand and the characters.
Are you still writing?
Not as much. I just don’t have the time. Every now and then I do a short story, but it’s not my priority now.
How much has the art of manga changed in the last 10 years?
Manga has always been a lot more diverse than people realize. That said there has been a growth over the last 10 years, with a growing number of art styles. Even manga is breaking out of its box. There is style and story type, Japanese manga always had diversity in style, more so than any other comic form in the world I think, but the story telling was pretty strict. Everyone thought it was groundbreaking but it was really deconstructed storytelling — fast paced but the way the characters move and talk and the way the pages turn were almost in pattern. That’s how the artist can do it so fast. They follow very closely a specific format. Over the last 10 years, especially with the growth of the Internet and the globalization of manga so to speak with outside influences, not only has the pacing slowed down but the storytelling also differs greatly. Especially in the indie manga, they’re taking much more influence from outside, more than Europe and France BD [Bande Dessinée] in particular than the US.
What’s the main difference between French BD and American Comics?
Again, a lot to do with subtly in expression, more to do with character acting, and slowing down the story and focusing on the small beat. It’s definitely influencing Japanese manga now and they are openly admitting that.
Are you using a lot of manga artists at Marvel?
We used to, but nowadays not as many.
I tried to bridge the gap between Marvel and manga, and for a while it worked, but what we found out is that the Marvel fans didn’t like the manga art work and the manga fans could not penetrate the long history of continuity that Marvel has. So now whenever we use a Japanese artist, we tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, so the manga fan can come in. But it’s very limited in scope
Is there a difference in terms of aesthetics?
The stories tend to be a bit more faster paced with manga artists. The style of drawing faces and hair is very different. They like speed lines, which doesn’t sit well with Marvel fans.
So where do you scout talent nowadays?
Mainly from Europe, in particular Italy, South America, in particular Brazil, and from the Philippines. Italy has a great respect for comics with university classes and they are masters at slow-paced storytelling, which sits well with Marvel. Brazil has the longest history of Marvel Comics publishing and many artists have grown up with those. In the Philippines, they also embraced Marvel Comics early on and in the early 70s some Filipino artists came over and broke in with Marvel. Filipinos have a huge tradition of mentorship and those artists have helped train the next generation.
How many portfolio do you get every day?
About 30-40, and I look at every single one.
So what makes a portfolio stand out?
Storytelling. You can hook me with style, but you keep me reading with storytelling
Three storytelling tips to stand out?
I have to understand the story from the beginning to the end without a single word on the page. Second, character acting and facial expression are just as important as any other aspects of comic book art. And hands and hair are the hardest things to draw, but if drawn correctly they will help you get the job, because that’s what I look at.
What’s a regular mistake you see?
I get too many portfolios with Wolverine and Spiderman. Send me something else! The other thing I see is incomplete portfolio, it’s like sending a half-written resume. That annoys me no end and that happens on one in five portfolio! I get too many action pages and not enough quiet page. Marvel is just as much about the characters under the mask. So you have to be able to draw both
The trend in the recent Marvel movies has been about adding a lot of emotional backstory
Yes, but that’s really what Marvel has built its foundation on. The stories were really more about the alter-ego than the costumes.
Guardians of the Galazy is going to be the next big Marvel spin off. Why choose these characters, they’re not the most well-known?
We had the same reaction when we chose Ironman. People were asking us, why, he’s a C-character. And look at it now. A great character with a great creator is going to make a great story. If you build it they will come. We hope these characters will bring the same mojo.
So why is Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill, and the main hero here cool?
He’s a man torn between two worlds. He’s a guy who has put his past behind him and now it’s catching up with him. He’s the Hans Solo of the Marvel Universe; the swashbuckler with a heart of gold. We are really going to go through great pains to go through his motivation, especially with the new comic series we’re launching in April.
Is it a reboot?
No, a new series; sort of redefining the Guardians of the Galaxy in the current Marvel universe.
Is Marvel still creating new characters?
Yes, we are. The latest to get some buzz is Alpha who was introduced over the summer in the Amazing Spiderman, and now he’s getting his own spin off. He’s kind of the Robin to Spiderman’s Batman. But creating new characters is very tough these days — because fans say they want new characters, we create them, and nobody buys them.
Your favorite Marvel hero?
It’s changed over the years. When I was a kid it was Wolverine. Now, it’s Night Crawler, the blue guy that teleports. I like that he’s an outsider and I like his power.
If you could have superpower?
I’d like to fly; that would make my job a lot easier (laugh). And I’d like to be invisible.
Favorite superhero costume?
I don’t like Spiderman’s costume, it’s too literal. I have to think about this one ... I’ve always liked the costumes of the fantastic four.